East Hamilton bar receives both backlash and support for maintaining proof-of-vaccination policy

An east Hamilton bar has opted to continue with the proof-of-vaccination system, prompting both backlash and support. Submitted by The Capitol Bar

Not every business in Hamilton has been eager to get rid of the proof-of-vaccination system amid eased restrictions across Ontario.

The Capitol Bar on King Street East is one of a handful of local establishments that has announced it will continue to ask customers to show they’ve been immunized against COVID-19.

Derek Weening, the owner of the east Hamilton bar, said he made the decision after speaking with his staff.

“There’s only seven of us there, so, especially with things like this, I always try and ask them what their preferences are,” he said.

“And almost overwhelmingly, people were like, ‘Let’s keep it.'”

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After the post went up on Instagram on Tuesday, Weening says he began to receive hateful emails and one-star reviews.

“I’ve had about 15 hate emails — ‘Enjoy bankruptcy, a–hole,’ ‘I hope you go out of business,’ ‘Worst bar ever.'”

In addition to the backlash, Weening said he’s also had people come into the bar and say they specifically chose his business because they felt safer with the policy still in place.

“I’m not worried about losing out on all the business from some of these people that are so angry, it’s just … you just don’t want to think that there are people out there that hate you that much, you know?” he laughed.

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“I’m just trying to do my job. I’m trying to make my staff comfortable. I want my guests to be comfortable and maybe even have a good time doing it, you know, have a little fun. That’s what eating out is all about, right?”

The provincial policy stopped being mandatory on March 1 but can still be implemented by businesses at their own discretion.

Several other Hamilton establishments, including The Westdale Theatre, have indicated that they will be maintaining the vaccine verification policy for the time being.

“The Westdale requires that you present an enhanced vaccine certificate with a QR code for entry,” reads a notice on the theatre’s website. “This policy will remain in place after March 1, 2022, until further notice.”

A coffee shop in east Toronto has also reported that it’s facing backlash online for continuing to check the vaccination status of its customers.

Luis Hernandez, the owner of Pomarosa, told Global News that the comments he’s received have included people calling him anti-science, a Nazi and other “terrible” names.

“People are trying to destroy our reputation with Google reviews, which is very sad, and it’s not even fair.”

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Click to play video: 'COVID-19: East-end business targeted for continuing to check vaccine certificates'
COVID-19: East-end business targeted for continuing to check vaccine certificates

The head of Ontario’s COVID-19 science advisory table has stood by the province’s decision to lift the proof-of-vaccination policy, saying the fact that they didn’t reflect booster doses or infections during the Omicron wave means that getting rid of them will have only a small impact on transmission.

However, Dr. Peter Juni warned that there could be a time when they will be re-introduced.

“Keep them in the back pocket, we might need them again,” he warned during an interview on Global News Radio’s Bill Kelly Show. “This pandemic is not over, but it will hopefully get easier if we’re a bit lucky.”

Because of how the virus continues to evolve and how immunity wanes over time, Juni said it will likely be necessary for many people to get a booster dose later this year to help keep things under control.

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“That would then be the moment when we might need vaccine certificates again that require an update of your vaccine status with the recent booster.”

Weening said he’s opting to take a “wait and see” approach and may revisit the policy at some point.

Even so, he said he’s confident about keeping it in place for now — not only for those who are just nervous about going out to eat after living with so much uncertainty for so long but also for those who may be immunocompromised and want to have options.

“I’m happy to be a part of this because I feel like people might not realize that there are going to be places that are going to continue with this policy. I think a lot of people were just like, ‘Oh, great, I can’t go out anymore’ … whereas, there are options.”

— with files from Global’s Brittany Rosen

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